With SoxFest coming up this weekend, new manager Robin Ventura is hitting all the press stops to drum up enthusiasm for the new season. It's nothing but a heart-pounding thrill-ride of understated professionalism.
While Ozzie occasionally inspired the instinct to wince and hope he would work his way through every interview without a risque statement, Ventura inspires more reactions of "Hmm, how much longer is this interview?"..."What was the original question that he's answering?" One couldn't help but marvel at his ability to match the fence-straddling nature of the White Sox roster and season outlook with a combination of non-committal and non-confrontational language.
It was like watching a 767 move silently across a sky, with no obstacle in sight and at a seemingly meandering pace:
"Matt's probably going to be the guy to start out--at least in Spring Training--into the closer role." (shrugs)
Amazing! Ventura gave a vote of confidence to Matt Thornton, but did so while committing to nothing beyond him getting the first save opportunity in February...probably. And afterward, he shrugged. The shrug probably said everything and we're just too dense to see it.
On Alex Rios:
"As for right now, we could move him around - left field, center field," Ventura said, adding, "I want him to be able to play. I want him to be in the middle of it."
Move him around? That could imply he's in a part-time role! Or in a rotation with Lillibridge! That'd be fun, it's always best when the two players splitting time with each other have a foot of height difference
Left field or center field? He said left field first! Maybe he'll start in left field but get moved to center field if he's deserving, or Alejandro De Aza develops trenchfoot.
Ventura wants Rios to be able to play; is that acknowledging that he was terrible and can't play as is? Or indicating that if he lets another pop-up drop in front of him, Robin's going to break his tibia with a ball-peen hammer? Ventura's discipline methods are a complete unknown at this point!
This tweet would seem more definitive...
@CST_soxvan Daryl Van Schouwen
Left field may be spot for Rios, ventura said, with de aza in center
...yet still contains the word "may". Even when Ventura is paraphrased, his words remain impregnable.
And here it is again:
@CST_soxvan Daryl Van Schouwen
Robin likes de aza as leadoff guy but also may consider beckham
Ventura likes the presumptive favorite for the role, but then again maybe he likes the guy who had a .296 OBP last year.
Hey stop freaking out! He said "may", and even then he'd only consider him. If he's willing to consider Beckham, surely he's willing to consider someone better than Beckham. If someone ran up from behind Robin and yelled "HEY WHAT ABOUT ALEXEI RAMIREZ AS LEADOFF OR A FREE BEER AND HOT DOGS DAY AT THE PARK?!?", he'll calmly tell them that he's thought about it, but free beer and hot dogs just doesn't seem like a good fit right now for the team...at which point he'd realize that he'd been tricked into considering Alexei Ramirez as a leadoff man.
"I'm ready to get a feel, to see people do things, rather than look at some sheets of paper," said Ventura, who added his preparation became more accelerated in the past month.
He's tired of all these stats and crap, they tell you nothing! Or he's just tired of them. Cripes, he's been staring at them for the past month. Or he just hates using paper. Robin can't go through 2011 White Sox game logs without thinking of all the dead trees wasted on these spreadsheets...and bats for the 2011 White Sox.
[On A.J.'s playing time] "He's not going to play every day, I promise. I'm going to break his heart."
A rare--and possibly fatal--hard stand. Was Ventura wavering into the dangerous world of firm answers given in January?
"A.J.'s a great catcher, and I just want him fresh. I think he calls a great game, is a much better hitter than people give him credit for, I just want to keep him fresh. We'll see how it works out."
There he is!
But it is not my intention to portray Ventura as a serial waffler, or incapable of giving a clear answers. When it comes to the important questions, he's The Straight-Talk Express
Think Adam Dunn's struggles will repeat? - "I don't"
Thoughts on the starting rotation? - "I like it"
Should Sale's innings be monitored? - "Obviously"
Can the White Sox prove that last year was an aberration? - "There seems to be a feeling"
Can you give something a bit stronger than that? - "There is motivation in that direction"
I guess that's close enough.*
Perhaps most importantly, Ventura seems very committed to having Sale in the rotation, which seems like something that should be pretty firm at this stage. And yet there's Joe Cowley....
Well, how to address this. The Sun-Times' Joe Cowley wrote a piece admonishing the White Sox for moving Sale to the rotation when he could be a suitable closer, while readily admitting he has the ability to be a front-line starter.
There's instances where I disagree with a scouting expert like Keith Law, who is simply of the opinion that Sale's delivery doesn't project well for starting, and there's times when it's fun to joke about Mark Gonzales using an antiquated approach to assess player value and production, and then there's something like this. Cowley's crusade that the 9th inning alone is more important than 6 or 7 or even 8 innings proceeding it isn't standing on either side of the sabermetrics vs. traditionalists divide, it's simply incorrect. We can have the elite reliever vs. back-end rotation starter arguments all day, but no one around the league is switching their top-end starters into closers, and there's a reason.
Cowley is asserting that the White Sox would be better off starting Zach Stewart or Dylan Axelrod (or as he says, Nestor Molina), and holding their supposed elite talent to the last inning. That's incorrect to the point where it's hard to grasp how someone with his experience could pen it without some ulterior motive. His next article after the Sale piece was calling for the White Sox to surrender the season at SoxFest, so suffice it to say he's going negative a bit in the way he addresses White Sox decisions, but still...yeesh. I'd feel bad even mentioning it as relevant, if I didn't have Larry from South Side Sox's brilliant send-up of the piece to link to. Read it.
*Obviously I had a lot of fun with Robin Ventura quotes throughout this piece, and while I did not misrepresent him at any point, the quotes in this particular portion have been parsed down to their core essence and made to fit the form of my fake questions.
Tags: A.J. Pierzynski, Adam Dunn, Alejandro De Aza, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, baseball, Brent Lillibridge, Chris Sale, dylan axelrod, Gordon Beckham, joe cowley, Matt Thornton, nestor molina, Robin Ventura, spring training, Tyler Flowers, White Sox, zach stewart